Somebody asked me about why I don't write a blog about Welsh oddities the other day. After all being a native of this lovely, ugly land it seems fitting that “I Saw Elvis” should spend time talking about the wonders and mysteries of the beautiful principality that is Wales.
Um, well, the truth is there isn't all that much to write about. There's all of one big alien crash site, two lake monsters, one big cat, some ghosts, a possible vengeful witch, and.. er.. that's about it. To prove how uneventful my tiny little corner of the world is, only today the local newspaper proudly proclaimed on it's front page “Man Gets Job”. That is what counts for news around these parts. Occasionally someone goes nuts and kills someone else, and sadly a brutal murder is often the most interesting news item of the year.
So you can imagine my surprise when The Sun newspaper reported earlier on this year that a UFO had been spotted in the skies near Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Amazingly it wasn't just some random anorak with too much time on his hands and not enough friends who reported it. Nay good kinsmen, this was witnessed by people of authority, namely a South Wales Police Helicopter crew.
Now for those of you who may be reading this overseas and aren't all that familiar with The Sun Newspaper it's either a “national treasure” or a “worthless tabloid rag” depending on how ironic you are feeling at the time. Appealing to what could charitably be called the lowest common denominator, The Sun packs it's pages with human interest stories. And by human interest I mean a Z list celebrity who has a new hat, a van drivers' opinion on the economy (Gee Note: “What we need to do is start trading things 'at actually mean somethin'. Like buying a newspaper wiv a tin of fruit or somethin' like 'at!”) and a topless 19 year old girl on page three called Nikki who loves “socialising”. Incredibly, and this simple fact has been known to keep me up at night, it's Britain's best selling newspaper.
Oh, and if there's any doubt about how truly awful this newspaper is, remember that paedophile “Name and Shame” campaign I mentioned a couple of blogs back? You know, that ridiculously reckless and irresponsible scaremongering, all dressed up as championing a good cause? Well that genius idea was thought up and implemented by someone named Rebekah Wade. Who's current vocation is, er, editor of The Sun.
Anyway on June 20th 2008, while the rest of the World's media led with stories about China's appalling human rights record, or how protests over the treatment of Tibet may threaten to spoil the forthcoming Olympics, The Sun took a different approach.
“ELLO ELLO UFO” read the headline. And beneath it a breathless report of a daring chase from St. Athan Royal Air Force Base all the way to the coast of Devon. A flying saucer hunted down by a Police Helicopter after the boys in blue had to swerve to avoid a mid air collision. All this happened, according to the report, on the 7th June. A full 13 days before the story was published.
And all of it was pretty much nonsense. Yes the three man crew did report to their superiors that they saw a vehicle which could not be identified in the night sky. And that it flew off at some pace into the distance. But there was no swerving, no chasing, and no hunting down. Instead the Police Officers simply noted down what they had witnessed and went back to doing their job. Which consisted of tracking down joyriders driving at speeds that left unchecked would almost certainly kill someone. (Gee Note: See, that's the thing that really annoys me about The Sun. By “giving the truth scope” they've in fact cheapened the hard work, effort and, seeing as helicopter's aren't exactly blessed with a 100% safety record, risk that these fine women and men go through every day to make our streets safer. Seriously those guys at The Sun = bunch of jackasses).
Now if this was, say, in California or New York this story would have sunk without a trace and been dispatched from the news cycle within, ooooh, 3 minutes. But as it's already been established that nothing happens in Wales and as Britain, just like anywhere else, is full of people interested in stuff like this the follow up story on the BBC website became it's most read of the day.
The Sun, upon hearing about how much interest their original article had generated, excelled themselves the next day by reporting how they were bombarded with calls from Sun readers who saw the very same object that had tussled with the Police. They even accompanied it with this photograph.
(Gee note: The better part of valour forbids me from commenting on how insulting this is. I have mentioned that the guys at The Sun are jackasses already right?)
And then the BBC, in what must have been a wonderfully smug moment, trumped them.
Meet Lyn and Lucy Thomas. On the 7th June, the same night as the sightings, they celebrated their wedding in a field close to Cowbridge. During the “mini festival” of nuptials they let off 30 Chinese lanterns (Gee note: They may kick the holy living hell out of the Dalai Lama, but damn those Chinese make good lanterns). These lanterns were lit and ended up floating away in the night sky towards, according to Lyn and Lucy, St Athan.
And immediately the rest of Britain's media, relieved at the chance to prove The Sun wrong and to get back to reporting serious news instead of this silly alien stuff, jumped upon it like R Kelly meeting a 12 year old fan.
Now the fact that the helicopter crew were described as very experienced and that Chinese lanterns look like, well, Chinese lanterns and not unidentified aircrafts seemed to hold no sway with the newspaper folk. Instead it was soon agreed by everybody that it was a case of mistaken identity. Except for The Sun, who took the brave step of sending some poor photographer out in to a field in Wales with nothing but a camera and a tent for, er, three months.
To tell you the truth, something bothers me about all of this.
In all of these reports, of the thousands of column inches written about this subject, not one single quote is direct from the officers themselves. Now this may be because South Wales Police placed an embargo on the crew talking to reporters. Which would have been a very smart move as far as public relations were concerned. But when it comes to cold, hard, unloving evidence all that we in general public can say for certain is, “three people in a chopper saw something they didn't recognise one night.”
And so whether you believe this was a genuine close encounter or not is, to be honest with you, neither here nor there. Because I honestly don't think that either those who were reporting it as a fact, or those who were reporting it as fiction, tried all that hard to find out what the real story was.
Which is a shame. Because quite possibly something very interesting could have happened in Wales this summer.